Lok Sabha rule loophole in conflict of interest helps politicians

  • Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 11, 2015 23:32 IST

Bidi baron and BJP MP Shyama Charan Gupta could possibly get away with his pro-tobacco industry comments because a suggestion to make Lok Sabha members declare in writing any conflict of interest has been gathering dust for years.

The Lok Sabha ethics committee had recommended in its report in December 2012, when the UPA was in power, that all members of the LS should "within 90 days of taking oath, furnish information regarding his interests in a form prescribed for the purpose".

The Rajya Sabha already has a system to check conflict of interests, wherein MPs are required to declare their professional and pecuniary stakes on a register.

But the LS couldn't bring in a similar mechanism as it failed to act on the ethics panel's report after a crucial meeting of the rules committee to push for the recommendations was called off at the last moment, a source said.

"The meeting was cancelled … and the report lapsed when the 15th Lok Sabha's tenure ended in 2014," the source said.

Businessmen-MPs like Shyama Charan Gupta, who owns one of the largest bidi companies in the country, is unlikely to face any action until this loophole in Lok Shaba rules is plugged, a parliament expert said. The Allahabad MP was in the middle of a row when a fellow lawmaker accused him of stymieing plans to enforce bigger health warnings on tobacco products. In his defence, Gupta asked if doctors could "explain why every chain smoker does not get cancer".

The row brought back focus on the need for stricter LS rules.

The UPA-era ethic panel, headed by Congress leader Manikrao Gavit, studied provisions for registration of lawmakers' interests in the UK, US, Australia and South Africa. "The basic purpose of the introduction of register of members' interests is to infuse transparency and accountability among parliamentarians so as to reinforce confidence of public in their representatives. The aim of registration of interests is openness, which is so vital for the functioning of a parliamentary democracy," the panel's report says.

The committee had pointed out that "conflicts of interest may arise from financial interests as well as non-financial interests".

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